The growing rift (Matthew 21:33-46)

Let’s return to the parable we introduced yesterday (and in Sunday’s message):

33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another.36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”

45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet. (Matthew 21:33-46)

Indeed, we have a spirit of hostility toward religion in today’s climate.  Sure, it’s ok to have some religious beliefs.  Just keep them out of the office, the classroom, or—if you’re Tim Tebow—off the football field.  In the 1990’s, James Davidson Hunter of the University of Virginia identified a rift between what he called “the impulse toward orthodoxy” and “the impulse toward progressivism.”  In other words, what we’re facing is a rift between those who are conservative and those who are progressive—so much so that it’s become increasingly delicate to discuss such matters at all.  Hunter writes:

“But in the end, whether concerned with abortion, homosexuality, women’s rights, day care, or any other major moral or political issue of the day, the tools of logic and the evidence from science, history, and theology can do nothing to alter the opinions of their opposition.  Because each side interprets them differently, logic, history, and theology can only serve to enhance and legitimate particular ideological interests.  The willingness or unwillingness of opposing groups to have a ‘dialogue’ about their differences is largely irrelevant.  Even a spirit of compromise maintained by either side would be irrelevant.  In the final analysis, each side of the cultural divide can only talk past the other.” (James Davidson Hunter, Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America, p. 130-1)

Hunter wrote these words in 1990—roughly 25 years ago.  Do you find them to be true today?  What have been some areas where it’s been challenging to speak on matters of faith and morality?

What it ultimately comes down to is how you see the relationship between faith and culture.  Do you see faith as shaping culture?  If so, you may be frustrated that our culture’s views don’t bend more readily to the character of God.  Or, do you see culture as shaping faith?  If so, you may be frustrated that conservatives are trying to use a 2,000 year old religious book to dictate society’s moral decisions.

But if we look at the parable again, we see something unique.  The Master’s servants –analogous to God’s prophets of the Old Testament—could be rejected, but there was something unique about the Master’s actual Son.  This, of course, refers to Jesus.

Every one of us is free to doubt the word of God.  Given the Bible’s peculiarities, you would hardly be alone in your doubts.  But even if you are skeptical of the words of the text, you remain confronted by the Word made flesh.  I can’t dispel your doubts about the Bible in a single blog post—nor will I try.  But the person of Jesus—who embodies God’s story—continually challenges our every assumption regarding faith and the world we inhabit.

If we follow his example, we will find ourselves pressed deeper into a hostile world.  We follow after a Savior who was despised and rejected by the very people he came to save.  His story becomes our own.  But what motivates us toward faithfulness and dialogue is not a desire to “change culture,” nor a desire to accommodate our message to our culture’s value system.  What motivates us instead is love—a love that prompts us toward moral purity and relational proximity in the same breath.


1 thought on “The growing rift (Matthew 21:33-46)

  1. Hi Chris,

    This post, as well as your sermon yesterday was very thoughtful.

    Your conclusion about being motivate by love is the conclusion that we need to work toward.

    There are many details in scripture that we can get lost in or not apply correctly. When communicating with others we need to speak “a word in season”. We need to at times frankly and courageously address error. At other times we are to practice taking the plank out of our own eye. At other times we just have to “leave them alone, for when the blind lead the blind they both fall into the ditch.” And at some times we are to just be careful and “Do not cast your pearls before swine.”

    I’ve given some thought to what Paul said when he told the church to publically remove a member who was in sin. (We must keep in mind this wasn’t someone quietly attending a church, the person committing the referenced sin was doing this publically and the whole church was aware of it.)

    I got a letter back from Ken Ham’s organization after challenging Ken Ham about his public recommendations to invite his fellow Aussie creationist to speak at Aussie churches. As I remarked earlier according to internet reports, Ken Ham’s former secretary was subject to the accusation of witchcraft by John Mackay. Ken Ham at the time agreed that John Mackay (who Ken Ham worked with over ten years) should be avoided till he repents. He did not repent, but built up his own Aussie creationist ministry. Now Ken Ham found it to his advantage to again associate with and recommend churches invite this slanderer to their church.

    Ken Ham who builds his ministry around arguing that if someone doesn’t take a literal view of Genesis 1 is on a slippery slope to other sins, has himself compromised with the word of God, and holds this man up as someone churches should invite.

    The strongest warnings to church about sinners are given in 2Peter in Jude and by the apostle Paul. Even Jesus gave the warning about “wolves in sheep clothing.”

    The biggest problem in the church isn’t the world. Jesus has overcome the world. Jesus did say though to be as wise (careful?) as snakes and harmless as doves in the world.

    But an unspiritual church is the worse “branding” for Christianity.

    Everything Paul and Jesus warned about, religious leaders devouring the houses of elderly people and for a show making long prayers — this describes what people think of when they turn on the TV and see preachers begging and cajoling for money. Widows lose their houses and the evangelists fly around on their private airplanes. To what extent I am over-generalizing here I am not sure.

    Scripture says we must and should pray for all the saints. Paul always prayed for the church and their spiritual growth. Let me end this and do that. [And I enjoyed your funny comment Chris, the last time I wrote something like this, when you remarked thanking me for reminding you to pray for me. Funny, spiritual, meaningful.]

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